It’s a strange sensation, navigating a boat along a channel whilst looking down on the rooftops of houses.
At 500 feet above sea level, the Peak Forest Canal lives up to its name, entering the fringes of the Peak District and offering delightful views over the hills beyond. We begin our journey in the light sort of drizzle that isn’t really rain, but fills the air with damp. The hill tops are obscured by cloud, and we’re not far below.
As the day progresses the sun appears and the clouds lift, until by the time we reach historic Bugsworth Basin it’s gloriously warm. This site, at one time one of the country’s busiest inland ports, has been recovered from dereliction and restored to glory by the hard work of a large group of volunteers, and their enthusiasm shows in the welcome we receive and the displays chronicling the history of the Basin that are part of the site. Now a scheduled Ancient Monument, the Basin saw huge amounts of lime and other minerals transported from local mines to the heart of Manchester and beyond in its heyday, fuelling the Industrial Revolution.
Today it’s a pretty and peaceful spot, filled with brightly painted narrowboats and surrounded by greenery, quite a contrast from its working days. It has made the trip down the Peak Forest, an extension of the canal from Marple, a real pleasure.
We return over the next 3 hours, enjoying the summer afternoon. At Marple Junction we turn left to the start of the Macclesfield Canal and a 27 ¾ mile journey to Kidsgrove. It’s many years since we last travelled this canal, and we take 2 days to do it this time, mooring at Higher Poynton on Saturday night and and then below Congleton last night. Yesterday was our best day of this holiday so far, being blessed by glorious weather and enjoying one of the most scenic lock flights you could experience. The 12 Bosley locks are stone built and delightfully picturesque, dropping through secluded countryside with the sound of only the water and the local sheep population for company. With single width locks and double gates at each end as well as being closely grouped, they are easy to operate and quick to empty. Still hard work in the rising temperature, though.
The canal is busier today, and halfway down the flight we meet a flotilla of hired boats coming upwards one by one. They are crewed by a large contingent of Swedish holidaymakers, obviously enjoying their canal experience. The canals seem very popular with Swedes, they are one of several such groups we’ve met over the week. Must be our climate that attracts them.
This canal was one of the last to be built on the system, and it benefited from advances in technology over the canal building era. Unlike the early ‘contour’ canals which followed the line of the land, this one charges over valleys and across roads and rivers on huge embankments and majestic aqueducts. Walking along the towpath ahead of our boat, we peer over a set of attractive iron railings to suddenly step back as we face the hundred foot drop to a river passing beneath the canal. Later at Congleton, we glide over a huge embankment with superb views of the valley below, dominated on the right by a many-arched railway viaduct following the line of the waterway. It’s just one of many dramatic sights that constantly surprise on this enjoyable trip.
As we chug gently around the perimeter of Congleton we pass many boats moored on the towpath, occupants enjoying the lovely summer evening with wine or beer glass in hand and jovial banter in full flow. There is a peaceful quality and a sense of camaraderie about the waterways that makes stepping on to the towpath a transition in time and space, and it’s very welcome.
As our holiday draws to a close, there is talk onboard of acquiring our own boat to be able to continue our experience and share it with our family. Whether that idea comes to fruition or not, we know that, one way or another, we will be back.